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Sunday Long Reads: JK Rowling’s ‘Troubled Blood’, Indian singer Priya Darshini’s Grammy nomination, BJP’s Advani and Vajpayee, and more

Here is your reading list!

New Delhi | Updated: December 6, 2020 1:48:36 pm
Perumal Murugan and S Hareesh (Express photo)

How a hate campaign against their work brought Perumal Murugan, S Hareesh to mainstream attention

Two years after a mob campaign forced S Hareesh to withdraw Meesha, his novel then serialised in a Malayalam magazine, its translation Moustache (2019, HarperCollins) by Jayasree Kalathil, has been chosen for the 2020 JCB Prize for Literature. Hareesh, of course, is happy because the translation, and the prize, will fetch him an international audience. This unassuming writer, who watches the world from his home in Neendur, a village at the north-eastern edge of Kuttanad, Kerala, relishing Mario Vargas Llosa’s fiction over Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s, rejecting Che Guevara and Fidel Castro because they had an authoritarian streak, also must be smiling at the irony of the Hindu right-wing contributing to his launch as an international writer.

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How singing about home got US-based Indian singer Priya Darshini a Grammy nomination

A brief Bollywood playback stint, with D (2005) and Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya (2005), left her disenchanted. “It just wasn’t for me. I felt very disconnected from it. I craved to create original music,” says Priya Darshini.

Seven years ago, when Mumbai-based singer Priya Darshini moved to the US, she could never feel at home. Born in Chennai into a Tamil-speaking family and raised in Mumbai, Priya Darshini would often dwell upon the concept of home and what it really meant. “Was it a space, a construct, a community?” she would often introspect. But just when she was allowing “all the beautiful cultures in life to co-exist”, including that of her husband and musician Max ZT’s Jewish-American family, the political unrest owing to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the outgoing Donald Trump administration jolted her. “Like other immigrants from around the world, I constantly felt on the periphery,” she adds. When she channelled her distress through social-media comments and posts about American politics, she was snubbed almost immediately. “They said I didn’t belong. If I said something about Indian politics, people in India would tell me that I didn’t even live there,” says Priya Darshini, 36, over the phone from Brooklyn, New York.

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Why the Central Vista trees aren’t happy about being cut and moved

One venerable old tree tells Down in Jungleland’s botanical correspondent that some of his fellas have ostensibly already been shifted.

One location where some of the over 400 trees from the Central Vista will be moved and transplanted, owing to a grand new project is, apparently, the NTPC eco-park in Badarpur, over 20 km away. One venerable old tree tells Down in Jungleland’s botanical correspondent that some of his fellas have ostensibly already been shifted.

DIJ: Isn’t this a great, empathetic move on part of the Government? In the old days, they would have simply hacked you to pieces and made a killing from the sale of your wood. Now, not only are they transplanting you but will also be planting 10 new saplings in your place.

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Nam June Paik Art Center Prize 2020 winners Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand on why ‘we are living in a transformative time’

Ghar Mein Shehar Hona Part 2, 2020-21, in Dindoshi, Mumbai

According to its concept note, at CAMP, you ‘try to move beyond binaries’ (art/non-art, commodity markets/free culture, individual/institutional will) to build what’s ‘possible, equitable and interesting…’. What prompted its formation?

That note is from 2007, when, among other things, we were in the middle of an art-market boom. The effect on many contemporary artists of our generation was larger-sized works, art mutual-funds, international fairs. We were interested in other possibilities, especially in a long-term local presence and global collaborations beyond markets. We were also interested in new kinds of art. Those involved included a filmmaker, coder, media artist and architect, and others who were pushing their ideas/work into an unfamiliar zone that contemporary art could, temporarily, hold or exhibit. To do this, we needed to set up our own scene of production, thus CAMP was born.
The work A Passage Through Passages (2020), on the culture of road-building in South Asia, emerges from five years of ethnographic and archival work. Could you share your findings?

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How Vajpayee and Advani made BJP relevant in national politics

Twin towers: Vajpayee (left) with Advani

“Arre Ashutosh ji, have a laddu. The interview can wait a bit.” It’s been almost 30 years, but these words are etched in my memory. I was interviewing Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who used to then live on Raisina Road. In the middle of the interview, his help brought in samosas and laddus. With his eyes closed, as was his style, Vajpayee ji was answering my questions. He stopped when he saw the food and, with a smile, asked me to help myself to laddus and samosas. I was young and was stuck by his magnetic informality.

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Troubled Blood’ by JK Rowling is a gripping book, but suffers from too many digressions

It’s difficult to separate a writer from her politics. This holds especially true for crime fiction, as it explores societal fault lines that upend the natural order of life.

Even before JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood — the fifth novel in her detective series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith — hit the stands, criticism of the book had been rife. In a year that has highlighted inequalities like never before, Rowling’s controversial views on transgender rights has raked up a storm of disappointment and resentment at her purported transphobia. So, when news broke out about her latest book featuring a character who cross-dresses to lure vulnerable women to their painful deaths, it was seen as a further indictment of her lack of nuance. After all, in an essay on June 10, she wrote — “…I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.”

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Stephen Alter: “Kipling’s stories had a much darker side which Disney erased”

Stephen Alter on his book and more. (Pic courtesy: Stephen Alter)

Most people are acquainted with the characters of The Jungle Book, whether it’s through Rudyard Kipling’s book or its many film and television adaptations. Children continue to be fascinated with the story of the man-cub Mowgli growing up in the wild, some scholars and parents regard it as an imperialist narrative while yet others see in the tale a contemplation of identity and belonging. Your Feral Dreams: Mowgli and his Mothers (Aleph, 2020) takes forward the story. Do you remember when you first read the book and what made you turn to it now?

My first memories of Kipling’s Jungle Books are of my mother reading the stories to me when I must have been five or six years old. They left a lasting impression in my mind, which has stayed with me until now, a kind of personal mythology and lore. The forests of India have always held a strong fascination for me. As a boy, I spent a good deal of time wandering about in the jungle. Later on, I became an amateur naturalist and have written about wildlife and the environment. Of course, I realise now that Kipling knew very little about the natural history of India and drew upon books by other writers rather than his own observations. Much of his work contains overtly colonial stereotypes and racist perspectives, which I’ve tried to overturn in my book, though Feral Dreams is not intended as a critique. I suppose the book could be described as a form of recovered memory, stories that come out of my subconscious and haunt my imagination. That’s the magic and mystery of fiction!

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